For the last two days in Broncos training camp, veteran running back Jamaal Charles has sported a brace on his surgically repaired right knee under the premise that if it doesn’t work for him, he’ll scrap it.
“But right now, it’s a safe plan for me,” he said. “To build confidence back up with my knee.”
It’s a test period for the brace and Charles is taking it slow. Just as the Broncos are taking it slow with Charles as he works his way back from multiple knee surgeries that hindered his final two years in Kansas City.
With each day, he’s running more, making sharper cuts, often talking with younger backs to the side about their routes and finding their openings in Mike McCoy’s offense.
But the true tests will come soon, when the Broncos strap on pads Sunday and when preseason games begin next month. The Broncos signed Charles in May to an incentive-laden one-year deal. To get his full cut, Charles has to win a roster spot and maintain it. But both are hoping he regains more: his status as one of the game’s shiftiest and explosive backs.
And in the wake of losing second-year player Devontae Booker to a wrist injury for at least six weeks, the time and opportunity is ripe for Charles.
Charles was cleared for full participation in training camp, but head coach Vance Joseph made it clear that the training and coaching staffs wouldn’t rush him back. The veteran is eager to do so fully.
“I told them I definitely want to do more,” he said. “Right now, I’m happy with the system. They’re taking their time with me and I told them I want to do a little bit and get hit. I want that, just to get my confidence up and see how my knee feels in pads and make people miss. Whatever they tell me to do, I’m just doing it day by day.”
Although he and the rest of offense are still working out the kinks in McCoy’s new system, Charles said it reminds him of the one they ran in Kansas City under coach Andy Reid. In his nine seasons as a Chief, Charles recorded five years of at least 1,000 rushing yards and, despite playing only eight games over the last two, leads all NFL backs in career rushing average at 5.45 yards per carry.
“I like the offense a lot,” Charles said. “There are a lot of of openings where guys into space and C.J. (Anderson) is splitting out. He’s getting the running backs out in space, so it’s a nice set-up.
Getting back to the player who ran for 1,033 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014 — or close to it — has long been the goal for Charles. Regaining the strength and confidence in his legs that he had before his ACL tear in 2015 is the plan.
For now, he’s taking it slow and with extra precaution. But maybe not for long.
“There isn’t any question I can still play. I know I can still play,” he said. “The main thing is knowing the playbook and controlling what I can control.
“I told the guys in the locker room, ‘When I see one of you kids beat me, it’s time for me to give up.’”